Pluto modern art

Image courtesy of NASA/American Astronomical Society

Pluto as Pop Art

| published November 12, 2015 |

By Thursday Review staff

Relax Earthlings, Pluto hasn’t been vandalized by graffiti artists with millions of cans neon and dayglow paint. Nor should you adjust the hue on your computer monitor or the resolution on your iPad or smartphone. The image of the planet Pluto seen here has been deliberately modified by scientists working on the New Horizons project, and using a system called false color enhancement.

The point: use digital analysis to accentuate and amplify existing color variations on the surface of distant Pluto. In other words, exaggerate the colors already captured in pictures when New Horizons made it much-anticipated fly-by this past summer. This psychedelic look at Pluto is all for the sake of science, and not meant as a challenge to pop artists Andy Warhol or Peter Max.

The photo and its complex data was captured back in mid-July as New Horizons was about 22,000 miles above the dwarf planet’s surface. After working with the data and enhancing the color, scientist Will Grundy unveiled this completed image this week to attendees at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society, held in National Harbor, Maryland.

Thanks to data and images collected by New Horizons last summer, we now know that Pluto’s surface is far more complex and dynamic than ever thought possible. Its textured, heavily diverse surface includes terrain both ancient and relatively young, areas of vast smooth plains which end abruptly against ragged, icy mountains—some as tall as 30,000 feet—and crater evidence of powerful impacts with other objects dating from billions of years past to the most recent 20,000 years.

As seen in previous NASA images, one mountain range on Pluto—named Tartarus Dorsa—includes strangely-shaped mountains with sculpted ridges and patterns, and vast canyons and level basins locked in between. Pluto’s surface also contains what appear to be frozen rivers, and patterned dune-like formations for which there is no immediate scientific consensus.

Related Thursday Review articles:

A Close-Up Look at Distant Pluto; Keith H. Roberts; Thursday Review; July 14, 2015.

New Horizons Phones Home; Keith H. Roberts; Thursday Review; July 15, 2015.